Crystal meth never became a daily thing for me. I never had a four-day bender, not even once. But I did it enough to fear that I might have a problem. And as the language of recovery goes, if you think you might have a problem, you have a problem.
I started smoking crystal meth around August 2015, when I was living in Los Angeles. My life was a perfect storm for starting a bad habit: I had gotten my dream internship at my dream publication, so I was stressed every day about doing well and impressing my co-workers. I didn't know anyone in the city, and I wasn't putting much effort into making friends, since I had a relationship to maintain with a man on the other side of the country. Then, all at once, my relationship fell through, the internship ended, and the family members I lived with decided to move back east, leaving me scrambling to find somewhere to stay. I started couchsurfing and relying on the generosity of gay men I knew to stay in the city, and I began casually escorting and hooking up to keep my mind off my ex. One night at a sex party in West Hollywood, I smoked meth for the first time.
By the time I left LA in January, I was smoking every weekend. I was having all the intense, kinky sex I had always dreamed about—20-guy gangbangs that last all night (and well into the next day), fisting, sex-club marathons, XL toys. For years, I had wanted to bottom better. When I was high, I was able to take dick easily, even brutally. I remember spotty, gray glimpses of bathhouse rooms and random bedrooms across the city, my legs in the air as guys I don't remember slid massive toys up my ass, and I took them all, no problem. Fisting, something I had only done a few times before, became much easier, but only when I was high.
Then the problems began. I had used many drugs before and put them all down for months at a time without a second thought. But for the first time in my life, I began having cravings. At midday, unprovoked. When I thought about sex, I suddenly had a desire to smoke. And I did.
I would later learn that meth releases incredible amounts of dopamine in the brain—nearly four times as much as cocaine. That can lead to anhedonia, or a diminishing ability to enjoy simple human pleasures without being high; the drug establishes a dependency on meth in order to enjoy sex. Many in recovery are forced to abstain from sex for a while (for some, many years) until they find a way to experience sex again without the urge to use. It's something some addicts never accomplish.
As for me, I left LA for the East Coast to patch things up with my ex—which failed—and to quit meth. I thought that all I needed was a change of scenery, and for a few months, a change of scenery was enough. Then, on a particularly erotically charged night, when I was mourning the loss of my former relationship, I smoked again. And then a few weeks later, I did it again. And again. Suddenly, my old habit was back.
After a bad relapse last month, just as dawn broke and I started coming down, I texted a friend: "I fucked up again. I have a problem." He told me to go to a gay men's Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting near my town that night.
I've been at it for 36 days now. Crystal Meth Anonymous is based on Alcoholics Anonymous, and before I entered the program, I thought that group recovery in that vein had to be weird—a creepy, cult-like approach to facing an addiction. I still think that, actually. But the handsome faces of everyone else in the room and the important conversations we've been having have helped keep me going. And I'm glad I did.
It took me until day 12 to accept that I have a problem, and that's been the hardest part of the process so far. It feels a lot like learning you have HIV, an ordeal I've already been through. Accepting your addiction means realizing that your entire life will be different from that point onward. An addiction like this never goes away, no matter how long you've been sober (after all, taking one hit takes you right back to square one), and it changes the way you date and hook up, your relationship to sex clubs and gay bars, the way you plan for pride events and erotically charged gatherings like the Folsom Street Fair.
But here's one beautiful upside: After a few weeks in the program, you come to realize just how strong your network of friends really is. It's easy to trash the gay community for its (many) flaws, but by day 15, I took a step back and saw how many of my queer brothers and sisters, both sober and non-sober, had come out of the woodwork to support me since I announced I was in recovery. Homos at my gym with whom I'd exchanged little more than small talk stepped forward to say hello and offer support. I can hardly get friends I've known for months to text me when they go out, yet suddenly people in my program who I barely know are inviting me to movies and gatherings.
Meetings still have that cult-like feeling. Each one starts with the same ritualistic script: Someone reads the 12 traditions, reciting the same introduction over and over. The meeting leader typically reads from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which gets treated with as much reverence as the Bible. I'm an atheist, so I struggle with the text's more spiritual aspects. But then again, I've met other atheists in the program who have found strength by simply believing in the group itself.
In 2015, the Advocate reported that meth use is five to ten times more common in urban gay and bisexual men than in the general US population, citing 2006 data released by the International Antiviral Society. And approximately 85 percent of meth users use the drug chronically. I can't count the number of times I've heard the phrase "silent epidemic" since I entered CMA. It's hard to understate how little meth addiction is talked about in the media, and how much stigma still surrounds it in the queer community. HIV and STDs get a disproportionate amount of press and media attention compared to addiction. But speaking anecdotally, meth directly or indirectly affects every gay man I know. For me, that observation is as comforting as it is sobering.